Originally written during my first pregnancy in 2018, with updates from my second pregnancy in 2020.
Ah, the third trimester of pregnancy. The home stretch. You’re so close and so far. You’ve gotten used to your little parasite, you’ve (mostly) accepted the fact that your clothing no longer fits, and people are constantly asking “So when are you due?” But just like everything else on this crazy journey, the third trimester is a minefield of new discoveries and sensations. Ready to find out what you may get to experience? Of course you are!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. This does not constitute medical advice. It’s just a summary of my own experience.
Note: Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my affiliate link. Read my full disclosure policy here.
This is where things get really weird…
There are approximately fifteen million new sensations you will undergo. If you’re reading the list and think “Wait, what about (x)? She didn’t even mention it!” – well, I’m currently in my third trimester while writing this (week 38, day 4, to be precise) and I can’t even remember half the stuff that’s happened at this point. Third trimester is weird, y’all.
2021 update: my second time through the third trimester went relatively smoothly but it’s still weird.
You are probably going to wet your pants
Yep. Let’s just throw that one straight out there. You’ve got an infant pressing on various body parts, including your bladder. It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. At some point, you will be in the wrong position when you sneeze. Or stuff just dribbles without you even noticing. Hopefully, you will just need a change of underwear. If you even notice – which you may not. If you’re really, truly, unfortunate, you may be like someone I heard about (not me, thank goodness!) who thought it was her water breaking and later realized it was just her, accidentally peeing herself. You may want to get some pads.
2021 update: LOL…yeah, this pregnancy, it was me who thought maybe that was my water breaking. Sitting on my couch with my toddler, I turned sideways a little and felt a gush when I was about 39 weeks. I didn’t want to go into labor and delivery if it was just pee, so I put on a pad and watched to see if anything else came out – if it is your water breaking, it will likely be a continuous, slow dribble.
But that’s just part of life until you start rebuilding your pelvic floor muscles after birth.
I sincerely can’t even make any jokes about this. In my case, most of my problems are related to the fact that I’m pregnant in summer. If you are unfortunate enough to be heavily pregnant in summer, you are going to hear about it, constantly. “Oh, you poor thing, pregnant in summer!”
For most women, this is because pregnancy makes you hot, so feeling hot already plus being pregnant is a bad combination. I made it through my entire pregnancy being anemic, so heat was never a problem for me. I swelled up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon though. I developed cankles so bad they made me cry, I had to stop wearing my rings, and my last couple weeks at work I couldn’t fit my grotesquely swollen feet into my shoes so I was borrowing some slip-ons that my husband has (which are basically the most hideous shoes on the planet but beggars can’t be choosers, right?).
2021 update: oh my gosh, being pregnant in winter was so much better. SO MUCH BETTER. I didn’t swell at all. I also was intentional about taking iron supplements so I wasn’t anemic. Also, so much better.
…and the side effects of swelling
Swelling wasn’t bad enough. Due to the swelling, especially in my hands and wrists, I wound up with pregnancy-induced carpal tunnel (lots of fun when you work on a computer). I had one pair of sandals I could manage to fit my feet into. I went through a week there where I had a hive-like rash on both feet that itched so bad it woke me up, that I think may have been related to the swelling? And then all the skin on my feet started to peel. Somewhere around week 35, I lost the ability to feel with my right fingertips, thanks to the compression of the nerves due to the swelling. And of course, high blood pressure was a concern – mine stayed borderline but manageable, for the most part. Plus, every morning brought a fresh wave of pain as I moved joints that had accumulated fluid overnight. Freaking wonderful. I’ve also been warned that this will take a couple weeks after the birth to go down. I’m hoping to see my ankles at some point in the future.
2021 update: oh man, I forgot how bad that all sucked. Spoiler, I wound up with preeclampsia after all that. We have a photo taken at my husband’s grandmother’s funeral a couple weeks after I gave birth (yeah, August 2018 was quite the month) and I am still so visibly swollen. Not swelling the second time around was so much better, but if you are swelling, it does eventually go away and it’s definitely worth the reason.
Yeah, might as well throw that out there too. Your bowels are being compressed. Angles are not your friends. Something you’ve been doing your whole life suddenly becomes difficult.
I honestly think one of the best items I had throughout my pregnancy was a Squatty Potty. If you aren’t familiar with this amazing device, it’s essentially a stool that wraps around the toilet. You can pull it out and use it to help put you in a better position so your bowels aren’t being pressed as much. I credit the use of the miraculous device with being a large part of the reason I didn’t have the same issues so many of my peers did with hemorrhoids. Seriously, if I could advise everyone get one pregnancy aid – it would be this.
2021 update: Yep. Also, magnesium (which I took for nausea) helps counteract the constipating effects of iron supplements (which I took to avoid anemia). Trust me, you don’t want to be constipated.
It’s like training for after the baby comes. You might have insomnia, you’ll definitely have more occasions of having to make middle-of-the-night bathroom visits, at the very least you will get to struggle with trying to maneuver in bed, and you’ll mentally curse yourself because you bought the mattress thinking about the comfort level for everyday life, not how you would feel like a bloated whale trying to roll over in it while pregnant. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have a kind and supportive partner who will help you out and be sympathetic. I don’t know anything about this because my husband thought it was hilarious and laughed his ass off when I rolled around in bed and flailed in a desperate attempt to move.
2021 update: yeah, he did this time too. Also, my toddler was not a great sleeper and was up at least once a night every night until after she had turned two – she started to sleep through the night at the same time I had to get up and pee due to being pregnant. I have not had a full night’s sleep since….June 2018? But eventually you get used to it.
Everything is leaking
As your body prepares to give birth, you’ll have increased vaginal discharge. As your breasts prepare to feed your child, you’ll start producing colostrum. As I already noted, you’re going to sneeze wrong and wet your pants at some point. And this doesn’t even count the fact that you’re still susceptible to crying over random stuff. Fluids are coming out of you – get used to it. As long as it’s not blood, you’re probably okay.
2021 update: accurate.
False alarms are normal
I had one false alarm when I was about 36 weeks in – I had a day when I was getting higher than normal blood pressure readings, I had a headache that wouldn’t go away, and I contacted my doctor’s office and was advised that I should go to labor and delivery triage and get evaluated. I did so, and of course my blood pressure was perfect as soon as I got there. Before being discharged I heard the nurse make a snotty remark in the hallway about how her hypertension was worse than mine. I felt miserable – but then I rationalized that (a) I’m not a medical professional. I was following the advice they had given me (consistently high readings, combined with a headache that wasn’t responding to caffeine or Tylenol, merited being checked out), and (b) I am responsible for my child’s life.
Don’t be afraid of looking stupid if you go in and nothing is happening. If it concerns you, get checked out. I would rather put up with a false alarm and look like an over-concerned first time mom than risk something happening to my baby.
True story – when my mom was about 34 weeks pregnant with me, she thought her water had broken. My parents rushed to the hospital, got evaluated – nope, nothing is happening. When they got home, they realized the truth – their waterbed had sprung a leak (ah, the ’80s). And both of my parents were paramedics! They literally were medical professionals!
If in doubt – go!
2021 update: yeah, I wound up with preeclampsia. Thanks to that, when I had a night where I started seeing spots and my blood pressure was a little higher than I liked, around week 35 of my second pregnancy, I went to be evaluated with no shame. I had them test to make sure, given my history. And thank goodness, I didn’t see the snotty nurse again. Hopefully she got transferred to some other department in the hospital.
Contractions (the kind that don’t involve apostrophes)
You’re going to wind up with some Braxton-Hicks contractions along the way. These range from period-like cramps to “hey, I can feel that my uterus is kind of tight right now but it doesn’t hurt” to “HOLY COW AM I IN LABOR?!” They may be enough to take your breath away for a moment. The general rule is, if you can walk and talk through them, it’s not a real contraction. If they’re getting consistent, stronger and longer, you might be in early labor.
It can be amusing to see your partner getting increasingly jumpy towards the end of pregnancy. At this point (38 weeks), all I have to do is make a funny face and my husband is asking if I’m having a contraction. I tend to have several every day, with only a couple feeling stronger – you get used to it.
Most hospitals offer the 5-1-1 rule – go in when your contractions are five minutes apart, lasting one minute each, and consistent over one hour.
2021 update: oh, sweet summer child, me of the past. This is all technically correct. But my second labor involved contractions that wouldn’t stop – back-to-back, for about four and a half hours straight, that had me redefining my definition of a “10” on the pain scale. Not going to lie, it sucked, but it was worth it. I did hypnobirthing techniques the second time which actually did help with pain management. I also focused on what it would feel like to hold my newborn – the weight of her when she was placed on my chest, how her body would feel, how my hands would curve to hold her, how I would get to kiss her sweet face. It helped.
2021 – Labor Signs
This wasn’t originally part of this post because when I first wrote this, I hadn’t experienced labor yet. I didn’t get to go into labor naturally with my oldest – I had to be induced due to preeclampsia – but I did with my second.
The start of labor isn’t the dramatic breaking of the water you see on TV. It’s more like noticing those little Braxton-Hicks contractions you’ve been dealing with – those are suddenly a lot more intense. And then you start to notice they’re in a pattern. It may only be every fifteen minutes (or more!) but they keep showing up. And as you walk, rest, and continue about your life – they don’t go away.
You may lose your mucus plug in advance or it may wait until you’re having contractions. You may not notice it at all. When I was in labor with my second, my mucus plug began to come out. It was chunks of blood-tinged mucus when I went to the bathroom.
You may have some diarrhea. Not a lot of fun, but your body is essentially hitting the “purge” button to make it easier for a baby to get out. The less things that are in the way, the easier it is (but don’t worry, you’ll probably still poop during labor – it’s totally normal even though it’s mortifying!).
In my second labor, I had contractions for hours and wound up going to the hospital, being sent home, coming back, getting an epidural, and finally having them break my water at the hospital shortly before I delivered. My first labor is very hard to remember (thanks, preeclampsia!) but I know they broke my water at some point with that. Don’t rely on it breaking in order to know you’re in labor. If you are having contractions every five minutes or less, they’re lasting one minute or more, and they’ve been in a steady pattern for an hour, go to the hospital or call your midwife.
What to do during the third trimester
You’ll play a lot of catch-up in the third trimester, but make sure you get your hospital bag packed, baby clothes are washed and ready to go (and you have someplace for baby to sleep), you have a car seat and know how to install it, and you’ve got some plan in place for how you’re going to survive the first few weeks with a newborn (check out my info on the fourth trimester).
If you’re doing a hospital tour or any classes, get those done! Most hospitals will do free tours of their birthing suites. Get some idea of what your hospital has facility-wise and what they allow. Write out a birth plan or at least get some idea in your head about what you would like to do (keep in mind, it will likely change). Meet with a lactation consultant – my hospital offered it through outpatient services, but programs like WIC also offer it, or you can see if you have a local branch of La Leche League to help you locate one. Meeting with a lactation consultant helped me out so much, since it gave me an idea of what to look for and what I needed to do.
Otherwise – sit back, put your feet up, and try to relax. Your baby will be here before you know it.
2021 update: still pretty accurate, except for the various changes COVID gave us. I definitely recommend the lactation consultant if you plan on breastfeeding. It made it so much easier to nurse both my daughters. I will add, don’t bother with a birth plan. Write your birth preferences but understand that they are likely to change.
This isn’t the most pleasant part of pregnancy. The first half of the third trimester is easier by far than the second half. It will end eventually though, and it’s all going to be worth it when you’re cradling your newborn. Just hold on!
2021 update: it is so very worth it.